The cheap-drama artists of my profession would, of course, make quick work of Herb. They're specialists at nosing out failure: hinting a fighter's legs as suspect once he's older and finally in his prime; reporting a hitter's wrists are stiff just when he's learned to go the opposite way and can help the team by advancing runners. They see only the germs of defeat in victory, venality in all human endeavor.
Sportswriters are sometimes damned bad men, and create a life of lies and false tragedies. In Herb's case, they'd order up a grainy black-and-white fisheye of Herb in his wheelchair, wearing his BIONIC shirt and running shoes, looking like a caged child molester; take in enough of his crummy neighborhood to get the "flavor"; stand Clarice somewhere in the background looking haggard and lost like somebody's abandoned slave out of the dustbowl, then start things off with "Quo Vadis Herb Wallagher?"
The idea being to make us feel sorry enough for Herb, or some idea of Herb, to convince us we're all really like him and tragically involved, when in fact nothing of the kind is true, since Herb isn't even a very likable guy and most of us aren't in wheelchairs. (If I were paying salaries, those guys would be on the street looking for a living where they couldn't do any harm.)
Though what can I write that's better? I'm not certain. Some life does not give in to a sportswriter's point of view. It ought to be possible to take a rear-guard approach, to look for drama in the concept of retrenchment, to find the grit of the survivor in Herb---something several hundred thousand people would be glad to read with a stiff martini on a Sunday afternoon before dinner (we all have our optimal readers and times), something that draws the weave of lived life tighter.
It's what's next that I have to work on. Though in the end, this is all I ask for: to participate briefly in the lives others at a low level; to speak in a plain, truth-telling voice; to not take myself too seriously; and then to have done with it. Since after all, it is one thing to write about sports, but another thing entirely to live a life.
Tags: Richard Ford, The Sportswriter